From rap music to people around the way, it is hard to navigate the streets of Black America without hearing, “nigga” a time or two.

In the ATCQ song, “Sucka Nigga,” Q-Tip aimed to break down the paradoxical meaning of the word, rapping:

“See, nigga first was used back in the Deep South

Fallin out between the dome of the white man’s mouth

It means that we will never grow, you know the word dummy

Other niggas in the community think it’s crummy

But I don’t, neither does the youth cause we

em-brace adversity it goes right with the race

And being that we use it as a term of endearment

Niggas start to bug to the dome is where the fear went

Now the little shorties say it all of the time

And a whole bunch of niggas throw the word in they rhyme

Yo I start to flinch, as I try not to say it

But my lips is like the oo-wop as I start to spray it “

Many in the younger generation fall in line with Tip’s thinking. They feel as though the word has been co-opted for their own use, the negative power stripped away. But others, however, still feel as though the racist history behind the words is still very prevalent today.

Growing up, I never really heard the word used around my house. Sure, I grew up in the 80s, in South Los Angeles, listening to heavy doses of rap music, but just like other curse words I was too scared to utter, I didn’t find myself needing to say “the word” to feel cool.

As I moved onto high school, many of my friends began using “nigga” to describe anyone from a friend to an enemy, the homie down the block, or the person who smudged their Puma at the party, and still—despite the proliferation of the word–I didn’t use it.

Today, you still won’t find me tossing the n-word around with ease.  While I admit that I may use it when singing along with a song, you won’t ever catch me saying it to describe anyone, especially a Black person.

When my students (middle schoolers) use the word, I always challenge them. They usually counter with, “Well, aren’t you Black Miss? You’re a nigga!” I typically use those moments as a teaching moment about the troubled history of the word, but with “nigga” being so popular (and my students being so young), the gravity is sometimes lost on them.

But what about you Clutchettes and Gents? Do you use the n-word in regular conversation?

Let’s talk about it!


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